The bag is packed, the tickets printed out, money and pills and notebooks all in order.
Train to Madrid, plane to Paris. I will see two good old friends, and a lesser-known but very rich museum I’ve been wanting to visit. I will buy India ink and stinky cheese. I will eat oysters and drink wine and (if it’s clear at night) show my godson Nicolas how to use his new telescope to see the seas of the moon.
The city of lights. People I love. I planned the trip a month ago, to escape the long, long stretch that is January on the meseta. That "slog through the fog."
I don’t want to go to Paris.
This year, something is different about the long, long stretch.
I am no less depressed than I ever am, in the mid-winter. The weather is rough – gray and bitterly cold in the mornings, dangerously icy. Last week I fell. I still feel it in my back. Walking the dogs is dicey business.
Yesterday morning the greyhounds ran away after a fox, out beyond the tumberon. I saw them go, far away across the fields, stretched out full-length like figures on a tapestry.
Snow spat down, and a piercing wind picked up. Paddy turned for home with the less-ambitious dogs. I headed out into the fields after the runaways. An inch of fresh snow squeaked underfoot. The fields are sown with winter rye, the turned soil barely frozen. I tracked the dogs an hour down and up a sunken lane. More than one fox lives out there. Deer had passed by, and maybe pigs, definitely a weasel. I did not see or hear them, but I saw their tracks. I did not see or hear Lulu or Harry. I walked on tractor paths, across fallow fields, alongside the wild arroyos. The hills rose and fell. Nothing moved but snow.
On some flat places you can hear the roar of trains blowing through Sahagun. The lonesome whistles blow, miles and miles from town. The wind carries the sound. Sometimes, some places you hear the autopista, the howl and roar of truck tires, air horns, jake brakes. But not very often. Not so far out.
I lost the dogs’ trail in a rough-plowed field. The black sky moved eastward, toward me.
I strode back toward the tumberon. It faded away fast in the snowfall. I listened hard, wondering if that little noise down the valley was dogs barking, if maybe they’d got the fox to ground. I stopped. I slowed my breathing, listened.
Maybe a dog bark. Maybe a crow, down in those black trees. The moaning sound was the wind in my earrings. Loops. The wind catches in them, it whispers and moans right into my ear. I heard the rasp of my fingertips inside my gloves, inside my pockets. I felt warm, I felt healthy and well. My eyes looked hard down the valley, into the wind. I could see only an out-of-focus eyelash, and a skeleton tree.
The rest was silence, milky white. Utter silence. I let it stretch out for minutes, til the black cloud rolled over my hill and the wind struck hard as iron.
I felt embarrassed, having spent the last hour shouting after dogs. I realized how noisy I am, just walking, my feet crunching down, my nose snorting, my prayers chattering words into the empty air. Into this wide place, so silent almost always, silence heavy and almost holy. A place nobody knows. Nobody sees, but maybe a weasel or a wild pig, and now and then a tractor.
This sanctuary stands within a mile of my house. I can go there whenever I wish.
True, Madrid is a couple of hours away. I can be in Paris a couple of hours after that. But why? Why would anyone want go to rackety old Paris?